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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why you should attend academic conferences

I really should apologize to my readers for the content of my posts on the presentations at the ICFP. Most of what I am saying about these have to do with my own level of knowledge about the subject (ranging from very minimal to completely innocent) and extent to which it piqued my interest, instead of the content of the talk. This is the way it has to be, as I am, with some exceptions, not sufficiently knowledgeable about the field to speak with authority about the talks - in fact I generally can't even provide a synopsis.

If you want to know about one of the presentations you'll need to find other bloggers, or better yet, read the paper. At least the abstract. But than since such papers are almost always available on the web, I have to ask: why are you reading this? Probably you are one of my regular readers (hi Mom!). Or you wrote the paper and are interested in what the community thinks of it (hi Jacob!). It's to the second group that my apology is directed: I'm sorry. I really don't know. You may as well ask the congressional page what he thinks of the Constitutional implications of a bill being debated. (I originally had that "ask the dog about the craftsmanship of a Persian rug he just soiled" but this is a family blog and a cheap dog poop joke just won't do now, will it?)

But if, like me, your understanding of most of the papers is limited, then maybe you are reading this blog to help you to decide if you should go to next year's ICFP. The answer is yes. Go, even if you must pay your own pay like I did. You meet really interesting people. I've met the authors of my favorite computer book of all time for example (one of them, Dan Friedman, and his co-author of another book, Robert Byrd, are right now sitting directly to my right, huddled over a cons cell diagram and some Scheme code scibbled on some hotel stationary trying to puzzle something out. Cool, eh?) You get to talk to interesting people and get a real feel about what the work of an academic is like (at least the research part). You get an idea of where the field is going, who is considered to be doing the most interesting work, and most of all, what parts of the field have attracted the most interesting and enthusiastic people and how to participate in those parts. I can tell you that I'm much more seriously thinking of grad school now than I was when I arrived. I want to understand more of these papers.